House Fire with Jury Verdict for the Defendant


Project Info

In the early morning hours of spring 2006, a fire broke out at the house.The exact time that the fire started is unknown as the only occupants of the house were asleep at the time.  The fire was first reported by a neighbor who had been awakened by his dog at approximately 2:00 am and observed what appeared to him as flashes of light occurring near the neighbor’s house accompanied by loud popping noises.  911 was called as he was leaving his house to travel the approximately 0.2 miles up hill from his house to where the flashing and popping noises were in his vehicle.  The neighbor initially thought that an electrical transformer was producing the noise and flashes.  Upon arriving at the property at approximately 2:19 am, he observed that the house on fire.  While still on the phone with the 911 emergency operator, he indicated that it was a fire emergency.  Upon ending the phone call, the neighbor attempted to rouse any occupants of the house by sounding his vehicle’s horn.  He then proceeded to take a series of photographs between 2:19 am and 3:03 am.  The Fire Department arrived at the property at approximately 2:31 am.  There were 2 occupants of the house at the time of the fire, and three dogs.  The evening prior to the fire the two arrived at the house between 10:30 pm and 10:45 pm after attending a social engagement.  Shortly after entering the house, the women fed their dogs and went to bed.  While the other occupant was preparing the dogs’ meal using the microwave oven present in the kitchen, they reported observing a spark coming from the electric service panel located in the kitchen while the microwave was running.  The one occupant was aware of the spark and did not pursue any action with regard to the sparking event prior to going to bed.  They also reported not being awakened by the smoke detectors present in the house and that they were hard-wired into the electrical system.

 

 

Background

The house was owned by ABC, Inc., an entity incorporated in Georgia, registered in Massachusetts, and created for the purpose of managing said house and retaining it permanently within the one family.  The lot had been in the family since it was purchased by the grandfather in the decade of the 1920s or 1930s.  The grandfather built the house in the 1940s and in 1956 ownership of the house and property transferred to the daughter and her husband, the parents of the family siblings that comprise ABC, Inc.  In 1993, the process of transferring ownership of the property from herself to her six children through the ABC, Inc. entity.  The mother passed away in 1996.

The house underwent two significant renovations, one in 1978 and the other in 1993.  In both cases, the total square footage of the house was increased.  Also, in both cases, electrical work was done to provide lighting and electrical outlets to the new additions.  The electrical service panel was allegedly upgraded in the 1993 renovation from a screw-in fuse style to a circuit breaker style.  Finally, the weather equipment was attached to the roof of the house was added in 1997.

Figure 3 shows a feature of the house’s electrical system that is noteworthy.  Between the location of the weatherhead and the meter socket cabinet is a section of service entrance cable that is wrapped in a protective gray braid and insulating sheath.  This wiring can be seen in greater detail in Figure 10, a photograph taken June 2003 or 2004.  It is clear from Figure 10 that this exterior wiring is affixed to the house by regularly spaced staples or U-shaped cable clamps.  As a further point to note, Figure 11 a photograph taken between 2000 and 2004, shows the same service entrance cable but with a portion of it significantly detached from the house.  In both Figures 10 and 11, the meter socket cabinet is seen to be quite weathered.

Conclusion

Based on the limited information and analysis to date RTI presents the following preliminary opinions to a reasonable degree of engineering and scientific certainty:

1. A number of misinterpretations have been made as to the nature and/or sequence of recorded events, including, but not limited to the following:

1.1 Arcing exterior to the house preceded the fire and caused it.

1.2 Arcing and burning is visible on a “line” shown in a photograph taken during the fire.

1.3 This “line” represented a bare neutral service wire.

1.4 The neutral service wire fell, independently of the current carrying wires, from its original position prior to the fire, causing the arcing of 1.1.

1.5 Evidence for 1.2 is shown in another photograph taken during the fire to be occurring on a different cable.  Yet, there are no accounts from eyewitnesses of these arcing and burning events nor is there any post-fire evidence of these events having taken place.

1.6 Telephone service was alleged to be underground at the time of the fire, yet photographic evidence shows otherwise.

1.7 Witness attributes an opinion to State Fire Marshal’s office regarding the origin of the fire that cannot be found.

1.8 Witness makes unsubstantiated claims regarding the behavior of the electrical system at the scene of the fire.


2. Key evidence was not properly collected or retained to ensure a supportable analysis.

3. Without the key evidence, including, but not limited to, the service entrance panel, the meter socket cabinet, the weatherhead connections and SE cable, the most likely cause of this fire cannot be determined.

4. There is no evidence that the Power Companies power delivery system or equipment was related to the cause of the fire.

Verdict

Jury Verdict for the defendant, NSTAR Electric Company
Defendant’s Motion for Costs, returned to Michael Callahan Esq., for/or NSTAR Electric Company

Categories

  • Electrical Engineering
  • Expert Witness
  • Fire, Explosion & Blast
  • Forensic Investigation
  • Utilities
  • Visual Media